For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-- not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God's workman-ship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Grace Given – Grace Driven!
How many people has this congregation gathered into God’s kingdom over the years? Though this is a small congregation, the number is staggering. Every one of those people represent a story, a personal story of God’s Grace.
Years ago I met a young woman who came to our church. When I followed up on her visit, I learned that she had never been to a church before in her life. I asked her the evangelism question to see what she knew or believed. “If you died today and he asked you, ‘Why should I let you into heaven?’ what would you say?” She answered immediately. “I believe that Jesus died for my sins.” Right answer! I asked her how she came to know and believe in Jesus. She explained that she had a friend in seventh grade who brought her a Bible to read. During their lunch hour, they would sit under a tree or in a corner and read the Bible together. Who says evangelism has to be so hard?
She introduced me to one of her friends. Like herself, her friend had never belonged to a church. When I asked her the same question, she said, “I believe that it is by grace alone that I am saved.” Again, great answer! I asked her how she learned this. She said that a friend one day sat her down and taught her what it said in Ephesians 2. Just that one time, and she believed in Jesus as her Savior! Who says evangelism has to be so hard?
Maybe I shouldn’t be so surprised by those stories. This is how God’s people spread the gospel. It happens in homes where children learn about Jesus from the parents. It happens in the workplace, when someone asks you, “How can you always be so sure that you are going to heaven?” It happens in your softball league or on your bowling team or in your school or college dorm. People look at you and they see that you are different and they wonder, “What makes you different?” And the answer to that question is found in just one word. It’s grace that makes you different. You are a GRACE GIVEN AND GRACE DRIVEN people.
- Grace given
When it comes to our eternal salvation, it is all about God’s grace, isn’t it? This is one of the truths that the Reformation restored to the church. It is “grace alone” that saves us. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-- not by works, so that no one can boast.” Paul really nails down the grace ALONE aspect of our salvation, doesn’t he? He says it is not from yourselves. You didn’t do anything to earn your salvation. You can’t take the credit. Paul says it is the gift of God. A gift is never something earned. If you earn it, then it is not a gift. That’s why Paul says it is not by works. You cannot pray your way into heaven and you cannot pay your way into heaven. That is why no one can boast and say, “Look at me. I am such a good person that God will take me to heaven.”
In a book I read by Phillip Yancy (“What’s so amazing about grace?”), he gave this definition for grace. “Grace means that you cannot do anything to make God love you more than he already does, and you have not done anything in the past to make God love you less.” This is what sets the Christian faith apart from every other religion in the world. You cannot make God love you more by sacrificing your life in a holy war. You cannot make God love you more by saying a thousand prayers every day. You cannot make God love you more by sitting on a mountaintop in a monastery so that you are not tempted by the things of this world. Grace means that there is nothing you can do to make God love you more than he already does, because his love for you is perfect and complete in Jesus.
Friends, if you don’t find that the most amazing thing in the world, maybe you aren’t fully aware of what a sinful person that you really are. We don’t have many panhandlers where I live. Often when I come up to the Twin Cities and take one of the exit ramps into the cities there will be a man on the corner with a sign. “Need money for food.” I try not to catch his eye as I whiz by. I probably have enough change in my change cup to buy him at least half a lunch. One stop at Starbucks could buy him a meal. How many times have I passed someone by and left them hungry? I can ease my conscience by telling myself that I would probably just be feeding his addiction. But what I can’t excuse is the judgmental thoughts that enter my mind.
Isn’t it amazing how uncharitable we can be to people who have little or nothing? Isn’t it amazing how angry we can become with someone who does not agree with us? Isn’t it amazing how neglectful we can be to our children, who are tugging on our shirtsleeves for just a little bit of love and attention on one of our busy days? And those busy days seem to be every day. Isn’t it amazing what I let my eyes watch on television? Isn’t it amazing what greedy thoughts can cross our minds when we are looking at a catalogue of homes or clothes or cars?
Isn’t it amazing how God in heaven could love us as much as he does, so much that he gave us his only Son, when he sees even the secret thoughts and desires of our hearts? Grace means that you cannot do anything to make you love you more, and you have not done anything to make God love you less. Let me repeat that. You cannot have done anything to make God love you less. Think of your worst sin. Think of the guilt that burdens you most, the one that makes you feel ashamed before God. There is nothing you have done that could make God love you less than he does right now.
That’s why the tax collectors and the prostitutes all gathered around Jesus to listen to him speak. If grace were an aroma, then Jesus must have given off the sweetest smell of anyone that has ever lived. When he told the story about the lost sheep, they knew that he was talking about them. When he told the story of the lost coin, and the woman who was so happy when she found it, they knew Jesus was talking about them. When he told the story about the lost son, who wasted his inheritance on a disgusting and sinful life, they knew he was talking about them. “There is joy among the angels of heaven over one sinner that repents,” Jesus said. When Jesus spoke those words, the tax collectors and sinners knew that he was talking about them.
Dear friends, you are the sheep in that story that Jesus carried back to the flock. You are the coin that fell under the stove. You are the son that the Father wrapped in his arms when you still smelled of your sins. God has given you his grace in Jesus, and he has claimed you to be his own dear child.
You are a grace-given people. That also makes you a grace-driven people.
- Grace driven
Our eternal salvation is something that God accomplishes for us and in us from beginning to end. Paul’s words in our text make that perfectly clear. “For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” We are God’s workmanship. I like to compare God’s workmanship to what it takes to create a bonsai tree. A bonsai tree is a small tree about two feet tall that looks like a miniature of a large tree. It isn’t really a dwarf tree. It is a regular tree that the gardener prunes at the root and in the foliage. It takes meticulous and regular work to create these small trees. It can take years of patience to grow this miniature tree. People who grow them usually grow them for their own enjoyment and pleasure.
This is what God has done in your life. He planted you when you were baptized as a child – or when you came to faith in Jesus through the Word. Your faith was just small, but it was a saving faith. You were still God’s workmanship. As a congregation you value teaching children about Jesus from the time they are small. I heard a wonderful story that President Zarling told about one of our preschools. The preschool was near a fire station, and every time the sirens blew, the children would run to the window and watch the trucks. The teacher took this opportunity to teach her children to pray to God to the firemen safe that day. One of those children was home at a birthday party when the trucks rolled. “Stop, everyone!” she cried out. “We have to pray for the firemen.” That child was God’s workmanship. What a blessing when we begin that Christian training early.
All these years God has been working on you with his Word. Sometimes he does significant pruning in your lives through hardship and pain. Some time ago I attended the funeral of an eight year old boy who was the son of one of our pastors near La Crosse. He had struggled with cancer for several years. I followed his story on his Caring Bridge site and was uplifted to see God’s grace working in this family. Before he died, he and his father made a Christian music CD expressing his hope in the resurrection. The first song on the CD features this child’s voice, singing “Amazing Grace” as only someone who experiences God’s grace can sing it. The whole community saw in this child a mature faith that was filled with an appreciation of God’s grace and the hope of salvation. He was only eight years old, but he was God’s workmanship.
So are you. You are God’s workmanship, God’s masterpieces. You are “created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Do you see why we cannot boast, even about our good works? God created us to do them and he even prepared those good works in advance for us to do. We cannot help but do good works because God’s grace drives us to do them. Christ’s love compels us to do them.
You are God’s workmanship, so never think that God is not using you in your calling in life to glorify his name. He has planted you out there among the unbelievers of this world, knowing that would stand out. And people want to know what makes you different. What makes you express joy at the death of a loved one? What makes you so sure that you are going to heaven? Why don’t you get upset when someone takes advantage of you, or makes fun of you? They want to know, and you have an answer for them. “It’s all God’s grace,” you can say, and then tell them God’s story.
Young people, I want to talk to you for a moment today. At these anniversaries, we like to look back at what God has done here at Saint Martin’s. But today we also want to look forward to the future of our church. That means you. You are the future of this church. Perhaps you generation has some faults, but you also have some real strengths. One of them is that you want to make a difference in your world. Do you want to really make a difference? Then study to become a pastor or teacher. As district president, I make out call lists for pastors and teachers. Who will replace my generation, which is fast retiring? Who will go to China and hold up Jesus to 1.4 billion people? In my generation, 17% of us don’t have any religion at all. In your generation, the number is 36%. Who will speak to your generation? Who will hold up Jesus to them?
You will. Because you are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for you to do. You are grace given and grace driven. One of the greatest missionaries who ever lived was Robert Moffat. He brought the gospel to Africa in the 1800’s when it was still the “dark continent,” because the light of the gospel had not come to Africa. Today, by the way, Christianity is growing in Africa perhaps faster than any other continent. When Robert Moffat was just a young boy, he was moved to give himself to Jesus’ work. When the usher passed the offering plate, instead of dropping in a coin, he asked he usher to place the plate on the floor. He stepped into the plate and gave himself to Jesus. Will you do the same? I believe you will. You will be light for your generation and some of you will choose to become pastors and teachers so you can proclaim the gospel every day.
Why? Because you are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for you to do. It is all about grace! Amen.